Attitudes Toward Foreign Ideologies and Systems
Whatever their background, Syrians generally distrust foreigners on initial contact, although this wariness wanes over time. Syrian rejection of foreign ideologies and systems, especially those of the West, has deep historical roots. Muslim scholars divide the world into two realms: the Dar al Islam, the realm of Islam, and the Dar al Harb, the realm of warfare inhabited by infidels. It is in theory incumbent upon Muslims to convert the latter into the former, by persuasion if possible, by conquest if necessary. Moreover, Islam stipulates that Muslim nations cannot enter into peace agreements with nations of the Dar al Harb, only temporary truces, a distinction that causes disputes in translating peace treaties. Although few contemporary Syrians espouse such a categorical worldview, Syrian politicians do invoke the medieval Crusaders' invasion of the Dar al Islam to arouse nationalism and compare it to more modern European intervention in the area. Furthermore, the long periods of colonial control and exploitation of Syria by Ottoman Turks and the French are well remembered.
Indignation and a deep-seated sense of injustice are common among Syrians, who feel their country has been betrayed by European powers, which Syria, to its chagrin, must nevertheless emulate or solicit for development aid. Added to this sense of betrayal is an acute realization of Syrian's economic and social underdevelopment in comparison with modern industrialized nations, to which underdevelopment the Syrians attribute the succession of military defeats by Israel since 1948. Syrians find their country's underdevelopment is especially painful because they are aware that Syria was the ancient cradle of civilization and, during the Umayyad era, the world's preeminent empire.
These sentiments gave birth to a new, indigenous ideology of Arab renaissance and resurrection and the rejection of foreign ideologies. Although Syrian political parties were influenced by Western models, the first generation of Syrian political leaders sought to establish their nationalist credentials by dissociating themselves from French colonialism. Therefore, they avoided or denied the similarities between their new political parties and those of the West. In addition, although communism has a distinct political constituency in Syria, it is not popular among radical nationalists because of its non-Arab origin and its atheism, which offends traditionalists. However, the Soviet Union, having played little or no part in the historic reasons for the rejection of the West and having actively supported Syria and the Arab cause against Israel, is accepted as friendly, as are the East European states and China. However, Syria has attempted to adhere to a nonaligned foreign policy with regard to the EastWest confrontation, and in recent years it has tempered its strident anti-Westernism with growing tolerance and pragmatic adaptation.
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